Hello, PATH parents!
From the minute our kids are born, we find ourselves confronted by various (and often complex) Parent Dilemmas. We must decide on vaccines, sugar, timeouts, pre-K, video games, YouTube choices...The list goes on and on. Obviously, these are topics that don’t have to be binary, yes or no, but must be carefully considered regarding how much and how soon. Sometimes the dilemmas are so plentiful, figuring out and then doing “the right thing” for our kids gets a bit overwhelming!
When our kids become teenagers, another Parent Dilemma looms before us: Social Media. Truthfully, most of us parents feel great pressure to allow our teens to use social media. First of all, teens love it! It’s fun, easy to use, and a major way that teens connect with peers these days. However, if we’re honest, our yes to our teens using social media is often more about us not wanting our kids to be the weird ones, the only ones who don’t have Instagram or Snapchat. We don’t want our teens left out of meaningful connections with friends or to be teased by other teens that they are out of touch with technology or teen culture.
We also want our teens to be able to understand and enjoy the good parts of modern technology so they can seamlessly move into college or the workforce after graduation. Furthermore, allowing them to learn proper social media use under our parental guidance seems wiser than forbidding it until adulthood (when inexperienced mistakes have even more real-world consequences).
This is such an important and relevant topic that Netflix recently released a docu-drama titled The Social Dilemma, in which major players in the tech industry (creators and engineers at big media companies like Facebook and Google) weigh in on the unintended consequences (and dangers, really) of social media and how it is genuinely negatively affecting teens today.
The film explores some dynamics that, if true, really should get our attention as parents and cause us to rethink that “how much” and “how soon” we referenced earlier. (For example, the film highlights the marked and steady increase in depression, anxiety, and suicide rates for teenagers upon the introduction of social media to society.) If the engineers and creators of this technology do NOT allow their own children to use it or do not allow their own children to use it until ages 14 or 15, then it benefits us to evaluate why and to look at how social media might be negatively affecting our own teens right now.
While I do not have the resources to fact-check every assertion made or every bit of research cited in that docu-drama, it is a valuable film to watch. We watched it as a family in our home and had great discussions during and afterward, and my teens made some new decisions regarding their own social media use (without my husband or I asking them to do so). They made these decisions out of their own convictions of what was best for them.
One of the best lessons we can teach our teens is to personally “own” their lives, to choose for themselves to do what is best for them in the long run. That involves continually evaluating what they want to give their time and attention to, what they want to use or to avoid on the path to accomplishing their dreams. Our teens must be reminded of the following: It is not enough to have dreams; you have to make daily choices on life’s journey that actually lead you to the life you want.
Naturally, we also must teach our teens that moderation is key. For example, to live a healthy lifestyle, sugar does not have to be completely abandoned; it just should be a balanced addition to your diet and not a major food group! In the same way, social media might not have to be completely avoided; it simply needs to be understood in ALL of its dynamics and then used in a dosage and way that actually benefits your life.
I hope this has inspired you to investigate the social media in your teen’s life and to make adjustments that make the most sense for your family. Be encouraged that we are all trying to get this right as parents, and if we realize that things need to change at any point, great! That’s what being a good parent is all about: learning as we go and making the best choices we can for our teens along the way. Life in the technological age can be a wild ride, but it’s an exciting and good one when we’re intentional.
Have a wonderful week investing in your amazing teens! You can do it!
Today, we are able to communicate concepts faster and farther than we ever were before. The age of social media has allowed a growth spurt in information literacy similar to that which occurred after the creation of the printing press. Both inventions have made mass communications possible to a new extent - and with mass communication comes the flood of previously inaccessible information. One of the many bright sides of the internet has been its impact on awareness campaigns. Without the internet, I may have never known that there was a Mental Illness Awareness week in early October, and I certainly wouldn’t have dumped ice cold water on my head for a disease I’d never heard of before. However, so-called “social media activism” has been harshly critiqued as ineffective. Does simply being more aware of an issue solve the issue? Can a hashtag really save lives? Did I freeze my butt off for nothing?
The answer to all of the above is well, it’s complicated. There are no easy answers to these things. The reality is that awareness is only one piece of a large puzzle, but it is the crucial first step to every solution. The critique of awareness campaigns began long before they took form on the internet - people have questioned the effectiveness of simply “knowing” for ages. Yet, this critical mindset is exactly what one needs in order to step beyond awareness and into action and allyship. The critical mindset must begin even in the awareness stage; we must vet the sources, internalize the information, and look further than what was originally presented.
As we become better informed members of our community, we become stronger allies to those in need. Awareness as a first step acts as a seed planted in your mind. Maybe that seed is a Facebook post, an Instagram story, or a conversation with a friend. Even if all you did was skim the information, you may later recall that concept and be able to use said information to look at a situation through a new lens even without having become an expert on the topic. However, we have an obligation to cultivate that seed, to look into the original sources, to seek out more information, and to share what we know with others so they may start their learning process as well. In that growing stage, an ally can begin to equip themselves with relevant resources. A mental health awareness campaign can prompt you to add a suicide hotline to your contacts, and a drug abuse awareness campaign may prompt you to research statistics relevant to your commmunity specifically. Identifying resources is one step of the growth from awareness to allyship, followed by becoming a resource yourself. Become an active advocate in the issue now that you have learned more. Action is the bridge between awareness and allyship. The actions needed will of course vary from cause to cause, but one easy way to identify useful actions is to look to others who are currently involved and just ask: How can I help? More often than you may imagine, their answer will be something tangible that you were already capable of; even if not, there will be fellow helpers ready to take your extended hand so they may pass along the needed tools.
The viral Ice Bucket Challenge is credited with having increased annual research funding for ALS world wide by 187 percent (source). This is thanks to the millions of people who were inspired by awareness to take action. Beyond even the statistic above, consider how many people learned about ALS for the first time though this challenge and later on met someone affected by ALS and were better equipped to understand them. Consider also how many young people were inspired by such a widespread effort towards good will who later on chose to continue the fight by pursuing a career in medicine or non profits. The seed was planted and we watered it with buckets of ice.
While the seed of awareness may seem ineffective at first, we must look beyond the seed itself. If you cast a hundred seeds across your garden and only half as many flowers bloom, remember that you’d have no blooms at all if you had ditched the seeds from the start simply because they weren’t flowers yet.
A Positive Approach to Teen Health (P.A.T.H) is a 501(c)3 organization that reaches seven counties throughout Northwest Indiana. Since 1993, A Positive Approach to Teen Health has been working to empower teens to make healthy choices regarding drugs, sex, alcohol, and violence.